Is reflexology an effective intervention? A systematic review of randomised controlled trials

Edzard Ernst
Med J Aust 2009; 191 (5): 263-266.


Objective: To evaluate the evidence for and against the effectiveness of reflexology for treating any medical condition.

Data sources: Six electronic databases were searched from their inception to February 2009 to identify all relevant randomised controlled trials (RCTs). No language restrictions were applied.

Study selection and data extraction: RCTs of reflexology delivered by trained reflexologists to patients with specific medical conditions. Condition studied, study design and controls, primary outcome measures, follow-up, and main results were extracted.

Data synthesis: 18 RCTs met all the inclusion criteria. The studies examined a range of conditions: anovulation, asthma, back pain, dementia, diabetes, cancer, foot oedema in pregnancy, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, menopause, multiple sclerosis, the postoperative state and premenstrual syndrome. There were > 1 studies for asthma, the postoperative state, cancer palliation and multiple sclerosis. Five RCTs yielded positive results. Methodological quality was evaluated using the Jadad scale. The methodological quality was often poor, and sample sizes were generally low. Most higher-quality trials did not generate positive findings.

Conclusion: The best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition.

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  • Edzard Ernst

  • Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Exeter, United Kingdom.


Competing interests:

None identified.

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